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Rambles of a Runaway from Southern Slavery

Henry Goings. Edited by Calvin Schermerhorn, Michael Plunkett, and Edward Gaynor

BUY Paper · 200 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813932392 · $30.00 · Aug 2013
BUY Ebook · 200 pp. · ISBN 9780813932408 · $35.00 · Mar 2012

Rambles of a Runaway from Southern Slavery tells of an extraordinary life in and out of slavery in the United States and Canada. Born Elijah Turner in the Virginia Tidewater, circa 1810, the author eventually procured freedom papers from a man he resembled and took the man’s name, Henry Goings. His life story takes us on an epic journey, traveling from his Virginia birthplace through the cotton kingdom of the Lower South, and upon his escape from slavery, through Tennessee and Kentucky, then on to the Great Lakes region of the North and to Canada. His Rambles show that slaves were found not only in fields but also on the nation’s roads and rivers, perpetually in motion in massive coffles or as solitary runaways.

A freedom narrative as well as a slave narrative, this compact yet detailed book illustrates many important developments in antebellum America, such as the large-scale forced migration of enslaved people from long-established slave societies in the eastern United States to new settlements on the cotton frontier, the political-economic processes that framed that migration, and the accompanying human anguish. Goings’s life and reflections serve as important primary documents of African American life and of American national expansion, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. This edition features an informative and insightful introduction by Calvin Schermerhorn.


Rambles of a Runaway from Southern Slavery is a hitherto overlooked and forgotten American slave narrative. In their new edition of his work, Calvin Schermerhorn, Michael Plunkett, and Edward Gaynor ground Goings's reminiscences in verifiable data drawn from a wide variety of primary records and sources. In doing so, they offer an original and substantial contribution to the slave narrative tradition in the United States and Canada.

William L. Andrews, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Rambles of a Runaway from Southern Slavery, the compelling story of a lesser-known fugitive, is a welcome addition to the literature on runaways who escaped to Canada. This narrative of Henry Goings skillfully portrays a bondman on the run with detailed notes and excellent introductory material. The editors and the University of Virginia Press should be commended for discovering and publishing such a well-researched volume."—

Daina Ramey Berry, University of Texas at Austin, author of Swing the Sickle for the Harvest Is Ripe: Gender and Slavery in Antebellum Georgia

Goings's short, five-chapter narrative was written over time as he grew increasingly cynical. In his initial leap from slavery, he entertained hope for the human condition, but during his time in Canada, he soured on the whole enterprise. The superb editing of this narrative includes enlightening notes on topical names, places, and issues; the original Drew interviews; and the appendices Goings strangely included with his text.... Highly recommended.


With the first paragraph-which includes "Of the date of my birth, I have no knowledge"- the author opens a door onto a dark part of American History.

This is a superbly researched and highly important contribution to the field of nineteenth-century American studies…It is commendable indeed that the University of Virginia Press and the editors have brought to light such a well-researched and engaging volume.

Elif S. Armbruster · 19th Century Studies

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